Isaac H. Brown: A Scottish Story Revisted (UPDATED)

Historic Analysis of 1969 Brown Letter: Does the letter provide clues to historical time frames for the Isaac Brown Family?

Marilyn A. Hudson, MLIS (2014)
UPDATE:  Recent DNA tests in two lines call into question some of the current understandings about this line.  In neither test was there any clearly defined and identifiable Native American DNA.  This seriously erodes part of this legend.  One line was also given information that connected them to a line that was in NC, VA. and PA.  It is interesting to note that in at least two of these lines is also a story of a Native American wife but it is several generations earlier.  Any male Brown descendants of this line are urged to have their DNA test done and begin to clarify this situation.

The story within the family of Isaac H. Brown of Texas county, Missouri was that the family name had originally been a) MacDiernie and was from Scotland and b) that on running away from an apprenticeship he changed it to Brown.  It was generally understood the original individual thus defined was Isaac H. Brown.   A closer reading of the document used to support this theory offers some interesting ideas while also raising some important questions regarding the timeline.  This legend appears to have originated in the line of one of Isaac's sons.  It should be noted Isaac always said on the census that he was born in Tennessee.  Only one of his children appears to have ever identified him as having been born in Scotland.  This would seem to suggest a misunderstanding of a family story.

Isaac H. Brown, Texas Co., Missouri.
Did he runaway from apprenticeship in Scotland and change his name from McDeirnie (or MacDiarmid) to BROWN?

Transcript of relevant letter parts dated  December 21, 1969:
Dear Georgia [1] : It seems only yesterday that I received your letter…your letter was a lovely letter and full of news and hope of finding more of our kin. Maybe I can help you in some way to continue your search.
You see my father told me a story when I was a small boy, when I asked him how we were named Brown.  Then I asked him again when I was in my teens. Also again a short time before he died. The story was the same.  Some things that I can’t remember, as hard as I have tried the last two months.
[This is important because it shows a consistency in the narrative but also that there were some details lost]
In the beginning our real name was Scotch – MacDiernie pronounced MAC-DEER-KNEE….
[Spelled variously there is evidence that a family group of that name  and similar (Macdermid) was a protectorate under the broader Clan Campbell of Breadalbane umbrella in Argyll, Scotland.]
The story I remember is this. MacDiernie  ran away from the apprentice school in Scotland.  He was 14 years old at the time that he stowed away on a ship and came to the United States.

Mary Brown, was she a Choctaw or
is the story older?
[ Born ca. 1806 he is about fourteen in 1820.   There were problems with apprentice schools many years earlier. One Edinburgh paper mentioned the issue  often in papers dated to the 1780's]
 He joined some group to fight the Indians. – Was wounded and left to die.  A tribe of Indians found him and brought him back to good health again.  He lived with the Indians for a while and married one of them. [2]
[Arriving in the U.S. around 1820 on the eastern seaboard there was not much 'Indian fighting' going on except west of the Mississippi, in Indiana Territory and in Florida. There were localized events but more detail is needed on them. The belief she was either Choctaw or Cherokee places the event within the areas of the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia depending on the tribal group. When asked to identify the suggested name Washatah (phonetic spelling of name as it descended) Cherokee speakers did not identify it.] 

Being afraid that someone would find him and send him back to the school, he changed his name from MacDiernie to Brown. That is the story our Grandfather told my father.

I believe the story because while I was in Canada I checked with some Scotch people and they checked … MacDiernie listed. Out clan is the CAMPBELL’S OF BREADALBANE (BREEDAL’BRIN).

Maybe this will help you, but I forgot the name of the Indians also weather it was a greatgrandfather or not.  Maybe our Great, Greatgrandfather – I can’t remember……..Fred” [3]
[This is important because it leaves open the idea that the story may be older than supposed. ]

Only one of his children claimed a Scottish birthplace for Isaac and Isaac on every census gave his birthplace (and the birthplace of his father) as Tennessee.  Now, in the first years of being a runaway a person might fear being found and sent back to make good on their apprenticeship (since money was put forward often as a loan to a third party in such situations) but after decades?  That would then make Isaac a truly grand liar and a man, as the Good book says, who had no truth in him.  While that may indeed be the case, it would seem that given the nature of many of children as stalwart people of high moral caliber that they would have been raised with high ethical standards. So, it seems out of character that he would have continued to lie once the need no longer existed. Indeed, in similar cases, there is often found a renewed pride in that first nationality that the person and their heirs appreciate.

Conclusion: Given the uncertainty of the letter writing in being able to pinpoint to whom the story referred, given that the greatest chance of encountering large scale 'Indian fighting' was a generation before Isaac, and given the fact he consistently responds to census takers with a Tennessee birthplace, and given that in a previous generation there was a recognized problem with runaway apprentices reported in Scottish newspapers.  In addition, several other Brown lines also share this common story of a Native American woman indicating that perhaps all are retelling a shared family myth or legend (which may be rooted in fact).  Together these all present a strong case for the story referring to the father or other ancestor, of this Isaac.  It is at least a possibility that should be explored and considered.

[1] Georgia Adams is believed to be Georgia Brown, daughter of Felix Grundy Brown, son of P.P. Brown; PP. was son of Isaac Brown.
[2] The common assumption that this individual was Isaac H. Brown (1806-1883) of Texas County, Missouri may be in error.  Nowhere in this letter is there an identifier as to who this stow-away was. Indeed it is clearly stated that it could be referring to his father or beyond.  Second, there is the idea of stepping into an Indian conflict if the 1820 date of arrival is correct. This date is based on the information he was 14 when he ran away and subsequent census reports as to his birth year, which remained constant over time.  The conflicts with Native inhabitants in 1820 was largely west of the Mississippi and south into Florida and an occasional hot spot in Indiana Territory.  Earlier, however, during the colonial and revolutionary period there were active conflicts all across the Atlantic regions and into the Ohio valley areas.
[3] “Fred” was an uncle of Georgia's.


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